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The history of sports

The Original Rules of Basketball: See how the game began

Austin Photo Set: News_Veronica_rules of basketball_Nov 2011_david and suzanne booth
Philanthropists David and Suzanne Booth Photo by Veronica Castelo
Austin Photo Set: News_Veronica_rules of basketball_Nov 2011_naithsmith
Austin Photo Set: News_Veronica_rules of basketball_Nov 2011_rick parnes
Austin Photo Set: News_Veronica_rules of basketball_Nov 2011_david and suzanne booth
Austin Photo Set: News_Veronica_rules of basketball_Nov 2011_barnes

Rebounding is my favorite part of playing basketball. I’m too short and too slow to make any major contributions on the court (like scoring baskets) but I’ve never been afraid to elbow someone for the ball.

I suspect James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, would not appreciate my aggressive tactics given one of his original rules clearly states “No shouldering, holding, pushing, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent.” 

Naismith probably rolls around in his grave daily given the prevalence of fouls in the sport today. The game was not meant to be a physical one; then again, dribbling, three pointers and free throws were not part of Naismith’s vision either. We know this because we still have the original rules Naismith wrote down 120 years ago.

He created the game in 1891 as a way to distract a bunch of boisterous boys at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts.  He wasn’t looking to change the world, but he did.

Over the next year you have a chance to learn more about Naismith, the game he created, and its impact on our society during a series of exhibitions focused around Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball.

Philanthropists David and Suzanne Deal Booth purchased the rules for about $4.3 million last year. The Booths would like the rules to find a permanent home at The University of Kansas (David's alma mater) where Naismith served as head coach for 6 years. For now they will be on display right here in Austin where the Booths live. 

“It brings a lot more people happiness this way than hanging at the office in my house,” David Booth said.

The LBJ Library and Museum will host the rules through January. Then the rules will make their way through the Harry Ransom Center, Blanton Museum of Art and the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.  Details are still being worked out but the goal is to tackle a different concept at each location: Artists and sports, presidents and sports, writers and sports and basketball and sports. 

The rules on display (signed and dated by Naismith) are accompanied by an original basketball and the first hoop, a peach basket. While some of the rules remain the same, many have changed. Back in the day players had to throw the ball from the same spot from which they caught it and three consecutive fouls counted as a goal for the opposing team. 

One person who is thrilled to have this piece of history in Austin is University of Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes. Barnes said he always encourages his players to understand the origins of basketball, which he believes is making a comeback.

“I do think there’s a real movement today to really bring it [basketball] back in terms of the way he [Naismith] saw the game; taking out the real physicality of it and making it a beautiful game the way it should be played. We are going to try and do that with our team this year,” Barnes said.

Naismith lived to see basketball played in the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936. He did not however, live to see the wealth and drama that came from the sport. During the opening reception for the exhibition at the LBJ Library University of Texas President Bill Powers wondered what Naismith would think about people paying $300 for basketball shoes and $3,000 courtside seats.

“He would be bewildered by the fame and fortune that this game has brought. Just think of the NBA lockout right now with millionaires in deep battle with billionaires over a game that he never realized any money from,” Powers said.

While some may gawk at the amount of money spent on the sport and its players, most would agree the impact basketball has had on our society is invaluable.

"Think of the cultural aspects and how it’s affected different populations. It's been a sense of upward mobility," Powers said.  

Personally I'm amazed when I think about the millions of kids (myself included) who learned the importance of teamwork as a result of this sport and all the communities I've seen formed to support teams at every level.  What a gift now to be able to get a glimpse at the paperwork that started it all.

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